Primary Source: N.H. Bill Could Cut Into College Student Vote 

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Published: 2/15/2017 11:56:15 PM
Modified: 2/15/2017 11:56:23 PM

There’s been lots of attention to voting in New Hampshire, thanks to President Donald Trump’s repeated — and false — claims that there is significant voter fraud in statewide elections.

That flared up again on Sunday when White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller went on morning talk shows and said, “busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known” and is “very real.”

Twitter exploded, with several New Hampshire Democrats and mainstream Republicans debunking the claim, including former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath.

“Let me as be unequivocal as possible — allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless, without any merit — it’s shameful to spread these fantasies,” Rath tweeted on Sunday.

What is also clear, though, is with Republicans controlling the Statehouse in Concord, some changes to voting laws are coming, changes that could also reduce the number of New Hampshire college students who vote in national elections, and those voters proved the difference in Democrat Maggie Hassan’s narrow victory over then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

They also proved the difference in Hillary Clinton winning New Hampshire over Trump.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a former Democratic lawmaker who has held his office for 40 years, is backing some of the reform bills, including SB 3, which would modify the definition of domicile. Under current law, a domicile for voting purposes is defined as “that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”

But SB3, which is backed by most Republican senators, including Haverhill-area Republican Bob Giuda, would change the definition to be “the principal or primary home or place of abode of a person,” and the place from which a person might apply for a passport or driver’s license, among other measures.

Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan on Wednesday said the Secretary of State’s Office is “generally supportive of tightening up the definition of domicile, and have been for some time. Our concern is the opportunity for ‘drive by’ voting to occur under our existing statutes, which is where individuals who might be temporarily absent from their home state are able to claim domicile here,” as has happened with some campaign workers.

Scanlan said the issue is “distinct from college students which is specifically addressed” in another part of the same statute. He also notes that the definition of domicile has changed before in the past decade or so, depending on what party was in power.

But Hanover officials, and state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, say tightening domicile is sure to erode the college vote.

“SB 3 would create a new standard for what constitutes a domicile that is significantly more confusing and less concise than the current law. Voters need consistency and clarity when it comes to eligibility standards and SB 3 clearly fails that test,” Hennessey said via email. “Again, it feels like the lack of clarity is designed to suppress voting, as well.”

Hanover Town Clerk Betsy McClain noted that if domicile included a requirement that voters have or must acquire a New Hampshire driver’s license, “a lot fewer students would register to vote” in the state.

And Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said the town is “saddened” by the domicile bill and another that might institute a 13-day residency requirement and could prevent new college students from voting in the September primary.

“Cannot politicians simply let the voting chips fall where they may?” Griffin said. “Instead, we have this constant back-and-forth in terms of state voting regulations which only leads to voter confusion, consternation and election worker frustration as we struggle to learn all about the latest changes from election cycle to election cycle.”

Briefly Noted

Outgoing Vermont Democratic Party Chairwoman Dottie Deans, of North Pomfret, is backing Keith Ellison in his bid to become Democratic National Committee chairman.

Orange County Democrats are hosting a breakfast on Monday, Feb. 20, for community members to meet legislators, from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. at the SHAPE Campus Center cafeteria at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center.

Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive, will speak at a Hartland forum on “the next generation of leadership in Vermont.” It’s at 2 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Hartland Universalist Church,​ 8 Brownsville Road.

Want some context to the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment? Vermont Law School professor Peter Teachout, who focuses on constitutional law, will speak at the Quechee Library on Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m. The discussion comes as the library is also displaying a National Archives exhibit on the Bill of Rights.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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